Towers of Strength

When Salvador Perez popped out to Pablo Sandoval to end the 2014 World Series, the Kansas City Royals left the tying run at third base and the San Francisco Giants won their third championship in five years. That was a tough moment for Perez and the Royals, but without question that moment could not have existed without the stellar performance from the Royals’ catcher all season long. Last season,the St. Louis Cardinals won 100 games to win the National League Central Division, but with Yadier Molina trying to play through a torn ligament in his right thumb they faltered in the playoffs against the Chicago Cubs. Meanwhile those Giants, with Buster Posey limited to 106 games catching while also covering for often injured Brandon Belt at first base, missed the playoffs altogether. This time the Royals, with Perez behind the plate for 139 games, won it all.
The fact that these three teams have been able to contend and excel over the past few seasons has been, in my opinion, in large part due to those three towers of strength at the catching position.
Perez, Posey, and Molina are all excellent defensive catchers. Last season Molina was once again strong offensively as well, batting .270 with 61 RBI. He doesn’t walk much but he also doesn’t strike out a lot. Plus, he is a threat to steal the occasional base despite possessing what we call “Molina speed” in honor of his brothers Benjie and Jose as well as himself. Posey hit .318 in 2015 along with 19 home runs and 95 RBI and a .379 on base percentage. Those numbers may have been helped by his not having to squat so much. Perez batted .260 with 21 home runs and 70 RBI, very good for a slow catcher in a tough home ballpark for hitters. He wasn’t perfect, as his 13 walks (4 intentional) qualify Perez as a free swinger with a low .280 on base percentage.
Sabermetrics cough up an astounding mass of statistical information, most notably Wins Against Replacement with the suitable American acronym of WAR. We now can tell you the average velocity at which spit sunflower seed shells travel before hitting the ground adjusted for ballpark and weather conditions. There are still some things, however, that are very difficult to quantify. With team sports, every player is presumably trying her best to accomplish the goal of winning the game. Being skillful will always be the most important asset in achieving that goal. In times of crisis, though, each player has his own way of responding. It is at these moments of tension that a player who remains calm, assured, and relaxed is able to keep the rest of the team confident that the storm can be weathered successfully. In baseball, it usually falls to the shortstop, the center fielder, or the catcher to fill this role. That’s because the center fielder is the captain of the outfield, taking charge and reminding his cohorts in right and left of their responsibilities as well as cheerfully fulfilling his own. The shortstop should be the captain of the infield. These are the places where most plays are made. The catcher, ideally, is the captain of the whole team. He can be the one to direct all other players as to positioning, communicate with the pitcher especially as to pitch selection and location, and be a coach on the field and a buffer between the manager and that screwball left hander on the mound.
Their coaches and teammates agree that Molina, Perez, and Posey all perform this duty very well. In the past, we have seen catchers such as Gary Carter, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra glue winning teams together. In general, there are and have been catchers who can hit but aren’t so good behind the plate, and excellent defensive catchers who don’t hit so well on average teams that try to get by that way. When catchers are good at both hitting and defense, that’s a big plus. When they combine those skills with Darren Daulton type leadership, as Posey, Perez and Molina do, you get teams that win lots and lots of games.

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